Kilah's Law trial opens; stepfather charged
The man charged with severely beating his step-daughter, Kilah Davenport, in May 2012 stands trial this week in Union County Superior Court.
Josh Houser, 24, was arrested shortly after Union County Sheriff’s deputies began investigating how the 3-year-old girl left in his care suffered a fractured skull, broken collarbone and damage to 90 percent of her brain. Doctors performed emergency surgery on Kilah to relieve brain swelling. She was hospitalized for a total of 65 days and has been through several surgeries. Almost two years later, Kilah is unable to walk, speak, feed herself, control her bowels and requires constant care from her mother and grandmother.
Union County Assistant District Attorney Anne Reeves told jurors that Houser beat Kilah, nearly killing her. Houser told EMTs and law enforcement at the time that the girl had fallen down and hit her chin. But the girl’s injuries indicated they came from something more than a fall. First responders noted that
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Houser seemed uninterested and aloof while they worked to save the child’s life. Evidence in the family’s home found by UCSO detectives contradicted Houser’s story of what happened that night.
Defense attorney Miles Helms said Kilah’s injuries were criminal, but they were not inflicted by his client. There is evidence of earlier abuse and neglect by Kilah’s mother and grandmother, Helms said.
As an attorney, Helms was adept at casting doubt on seemingly innocuous witness testimony. He pushed for the court’s permission to ask Kilah’s grandmother, Leslie Davenport, about previous investigations into her and Kilah’s mother, Kirbi. Social workers found no grounds for legal action, but Helms explored the topic fully. When first responders testified about Houser’s aloof behavior as they treated Kilah, Helms focused his questions on when they would have time to observer Houser when they were working to save Kilah.
Reeves was equally adept at foiling Helms’ manipulation of testimony. Helms grilled paramedic David Marrero if he was concentrating on driving the ambulance safely to the hospital or on Houser’s behavior as he sat next to Marrero in the ambulance cab. In her redirect, Reeves asked Marrero to stop her when she walked up as close to him as Houser was to him in the ambulance. She walked from the state’s desk to within a few feet of Marrero before he stopped her.
Reeves began by establishing what Kilah was like before the events of May 16, 2012. Leslie Davenport described seeing Kilah on May 15. The child was healthy and active. Judge Tanya Wallace allowed Kilah to be brought into the courtroom and shown to the jury. She was limp and silent in her grandmother’s arms. Leslie Davenport described the special equipment, food and medication Kilah requires on a daily basis. Two jury members visibly wept.
In his cross examination, Helms asked Leslie Davenport if she had a drinking problem. He asked about her relationship with Kirbi. He pressed her on why Kirbi told detectives that Leslie was abusive and could have hit Kilah earlier. And he detailed the discrepancy between statements about which side of Kilah’s collarbone was bruised a few days before her hospitalization. Leslie replied that she was in shock when detectives first questioned her. She denied having a drinking problem and denied ever being physically abusive.
The jury heard the 911 call Houser made. The first few minutes he was frantic and breathing heavy. He spoke too fast for the 911 operator to understand the address Houser kept repeatedly shouting into the phone. Emergency Communicator Richard Underwood asked Houser to speak slowly so they could understand him. They finally got the correct address, but what Houser said made no sense.
“She peed,” he said in the 911 call recording.
“Who did?” Underwood said.
“Unresponsive,” Houser said. “She fell.”
“Do you have a hurt child there?” Underwood said.
“Yes, unresponsive,” Houser said.
Houser stated then that Kilah fell while running in the house.
Reeves called several first responders to Houser’s 911 call. They found Kilah in Houser’s truck which he had driven a short distance from the family’s home and parked against the flow of traffic on the road’s shoulder. EMTs and firefighters testified they found Kilah unresponsive, with blood and vomit in her mouth. She had a cut on her chin and what appeared to be a dog bite on her left thigh. Though no serious injury was noticed, EMTs testified that Kilah was unresponsive, made little noise and her breathing was highly irregular. Though her heart rate was more than 120 beats per minute, her blood oxygen saturation was dangerously low.
Meanwhile, the same EMTs noticed Houser was standing outside the truck.
“He was anxious, he was nervous,” Paramedic Glenn Mauney said. “He went from telling us what happened to walking away and speaking to someone on the telephone, shouting and was very upset.”
Houser told the paramedics that Kilah wet herself instead of going to the bathroom. He spanked her and noticed she started “spazzing out.” He said he carried her into the bathroom where she went limp. He changed her clothes and found she had defecated on herself. He told paramedics that he laid her on the bed and called 911.
Judy Seymour, an forensic emergency room nurse at Carolinas Medical Center - NorthEast in Concord said she examined Kilah as soon as she entered the hospital. She described the same bruises on the girl’s extremities, but also noted swelling and bruising on Kilah’s face and a broken collarbone.
“She had one pupil that was larger than the other, which is a sign of possible damage to the brain,” Seymour said.
The back of Kilah’s head was also “mushy,” a soft area that indicates the area is filled with blood and fluid. Nurses medicated Kilah three times to stop sudden seizures.
Under Helms’ cross examination, Seymour said a hematoma like the one Kilah had can develop over days before symptoms appear.
UCSO Lt. Brian Helms testified Houser cooperated with the investigation that night. He willingly consented to a search of the family’s home. Inside the home, investigators found the soiled clothes Houser described but also noticed a large hole in the sheetrock of the master bedroom.
When Lt. Helms asked about the hole, Houser said he punched the wall in frustration during the 911 call when the operator could not understand the address he repeated into the phone.
Detectives then sat down with Houser at the kitchen table and explained they suspected him of beating Kilah.
“He then told us he didn’t want to talk to us anymore and asked us to leave,” Lt. Helms said.
After some additional investigation, Lt. Helms found one of Kilah’s hairs embedded into the broken drywall. He then got a warrant for Houser’s arrest and charged him with felony child abuse.
His trial continues this week in Union County Superior Court.